Monday, March 1, 2010

I am a Braisin' Hussy

Only without the "hussy" part.

Ok, so I can't rant on my dislike of certain TV Cooks without backing it up with a tasty cooking segment, so here you are.

Chicken Braised in Hard Cider w/ Parsnips, from the amazing All About Braising by Molly Stevens. This book is truly a marvel, because not only is it chock-full of amazing recipes (covering vegetables, fish, poultry, beef, pork, veal, and lamb in their own chapters) but it also is a tell-all about the art of braising. Everything from the many various options in pots and pans, down to why you reduce and deglaze, to describing optimal ingredients, and even where to find them!  If you are a beginner cook, it walks you through everything step-by-step. It is a brilliant book.

Toward the end there is a chapter called, "An Opinionated Pantry" that I am going to quote here, because really, I couldn't say it better myself:

"If I were able to communicate only one lesson to students and aspiring cooks, it would be: Cook. Cook from scratch. Cook often. Cook whenever you can. Cook whatever you can. Cook for your family and your friends. Cook for yourself even when you are alone. Cook when you are going to visit and bring along whatever you made. The act of cooking on a regular basis will make you a better cook and will improve the quality of your life and of those around you. I'm convinced of it."

I very much feel this way, and if I had my druthers  I would be cooking for friends much more often as well. Of course, then I'd need a table and chairs for them to sit at... but that's a separate NYC apartment issue.

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2 inch strips
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
Coarse salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 large shallot, minced
2 1/2 cups hard cider (still or bubbly)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 pound parsnips, peeled & woody core removed, cut into 3" sticks

Right off I am starting this recipe differently because I made this once before and discovered that while Mike very much likes the chicken breasts from it, I much prefer the thigh meat which get much sweeter. So that's a simple variation. I am also throwing in carrots along with the parsnips (tho I LOVE the slightly spicy smell parsnips give off when peeled, I just happen to have a number of carrots on hand right now.) Last time I used Woodchuck Granny Smith Hard Cider. This time I am trying using Doc's Draft Hard Cider. We shall see if there is a difference. Finally, I only have dried rosemary, as we do not enjoy rosemary over much. But sometimes a dish calls for it (like today...) so I keep dried on hand.

(A last warning... this is not a "toss everything in a pot and walk away" kind of recipe. The first few steps are very time-consuming and require your attention.)

Preheat your oven to 325º (Tho you SO don't have to do this until you're done browning the chicken.)

First: crisp the bacon so it renders its fat for all-around tastiness. (Because this is thick-cut slab bacon, it takes quite a while. 15 min or so. Keep an eye on it.) Remove and reserve bacon for later.

(You must try very hard from this point on to NOT eat all the reserved bacon while waiting for other things to cook... you can do it! Or just make extra...)

Next you want to brown your chicken in about 2 tablespoons of the drippings, about 4-5 minutes.  (Usual chicken prep: rinse under cool water, pat completely dry, and season both sides with salt and pepper.) Then flip them to brown the other side (or the thick end of the chicken breast) another 2 minutes. Remove to a plate.
<-- browning the thick end of the breast

*Do not crowd your pot. If your pot is too small to fit all the chicken at once to brown, do it in batches. The only thing that happens from crowding a pan is boiled/steamed food. It will not brown because there is nowhere for the trapped moisture to go.

Now sauté your shallot in the leftover drippings. Just as it is beginning to brown (not burn) pour in 2 cups of hard cider to deglaze the pan. With a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan (these are flavor nuggets. You want these!).
Let the cider boil and reduce down to about 1/2 a cup, 10-15 minutes. Add your rosemary and another 1/2 cup of cider and reduce down to about 3/4 of a cup total (6-8 min.) Your sauce will not become thick (there is no thickening agent or starch) but the flavor will have intensified and concentrated from the repeated reductions.

Next add your parsnips & season w/ a pinch of salt and black pepper. **Sprinkle the bacon back over the parsnips, and arrange the chicken pieces on top, skin side down. Add any juices that escaped your chicken while it was resting on the plate. Cover with parchment paper, pressing down to just touch the chicken and the top hangs out of the pan, and place the lid on top. Slide the pot (carefully as it has gotten very hot all this time) into the lower third of the preheated oven.

** I only put half back in, as we prefer our bacon to be crunchy, and it has done its job rendering its fat in the first step. We sprinkle the other half on the finished product.

After 25 minutes, carefully rotate the chicken skin-up and replace parchment/lid. Cook another 20-25 minutes.  If your parsnips have not cooked thru at this point, you can remove the chicken and simmer the sauce & veg on the stovetop another 5-8 minutes. Then distribute your veg w/ your chicken and top with your sauce (and bacon!) after skimming any obvious fat off the top of the sauce.
 I have not mastered the "final photo presentation" element.
Whatever. So long as it tastes good!

Now for reality: cook this dish for a friend, and HAVE THEM THERE to talk to you in the kitchen while you're making this, because it took me over an hour and a half before I even got to the "place everything in the pot and braise it in the oven" part. I just remembered why I haven't made this since last winter.
Braising is not a quick-cooking art. However, all the individual steps ARE the reason a braised dish tastes 100x better than anything you just dumped in a slow-cooker and came home to 4 hrs later. So in the end, it's worth it.
Just start cooking at 5PM...


Jennifer said...

Do you think I can conceivably get enough fat out of turkey bacon to make this work? Hmmm....

RocknRollGourmet said...

As long as you use enough... since I don't cook w/ turkey bacon, I cannot say what the conversion would be, but search out some thick-cut turkey bacon, and just add more evoo if you do not think there is enough in the pan when it is done rendering.
Remember, I had to spoon OUT fat after the bacon before browning the chicken. The bacon (I think) is just used to add another layer of flavor to the final product.

And as an excuse to eat bacon.

I have a follow-up post about this dinner coming out tonight.